Saturday, November 08, 2008

Conversions and Hinduism: Chindu's bigotry against Hindus

A natural process of transformation
M.S. Prabhakara takes a critical look at the claim that Hinduism does not enjoin conversions as the so-called revealed religions do.

There are three aspects in the article that I would like to address:
1. Flawed evidence
2. Ideological motivations
3. Insinuations

1. Flawed evidence:
Let me take the evidence first.
I confine myself to some irrefutable facts of history in Assam and its neighbourhood in northeast India.

The author does well to state the limitations of his case upfront. And these limitations are quite serious when one considers that all the 3 chosen examples are dubious.

In the first example, the Ahom rulers became Hindus " partly [as] the result of a number of accidental circumstances, and partly [as] the outcome of a deliberate policy". As the conversion is into Hinduism, Prabhakara is obviously not impressed. He blames the vile Brahmins for the conversion and eventual fall of Ahom dynasty!!!
The point to note is that the role of the Brahmin clergy was crucial at every stage of the conversion of the king and the upper echelons of the Ahom court and the subsequent schisms and the prolonged conflicts of the late 18th century that had dimensions of caste, tribe, ethnicity, faith and belief, that historians consider was one of the factors that led to the debilitation, and finally the defeat in war and the destruction of the Ahom kingdom in the first quarter of the 19th century.

The Ahom rulers left their minority religion to take up the majority religion of Hinduism. Interesting to note that they chose the minority sect of Shaktism and not the majority sect of Vaishnavism. So, did these vile Brahmins come from Shaktism or Vaishnavism? Was it a conscious decision by the rulers to convert? Did the Brahmins threaten or induce the rulers to convert? Inconvenient questions.

The second case on King Pamheiba requires more elaborate history than the selective rendering dished our by Prabhakara to suit his agenda.
- Vaishnavism came to Manipur around 1470AD.
- King Kyamba (1467-1508AD) fell sick. It is said that he was diagonised through proper worship of Vishnu. A Vishnu temple was built in the palace and regular prayers were conducted ever since. But the King was not initiated into the sect.
- King Khagemba (1597-1652AD) too was not initiated into Vaishnavism, although Vishnu became a part of the local customs.
- Pitambar Charairongba was the first Manipuri king to be formally initiated to Vaishnavism. In 1619 Charairongba was inclined to the Madhavcharya sect of Vaishnavism, so he began to worship the Radha Krishna. But he never attempted to impose this new faith upon his people.
- King Pamheiba imposed Hinduism as state religion. Not only did Pamheiba persecute followers of Meitei religion but also people of other Vaishnava sects.
- Pamheiba was an invader. He was involved in persecution even before he met Santi Das in the later part of his life.

When viewed in this context, it is evident that King Pamheiba indulged in religious conversions for attaining his political ambitions. As with ambitious rulers indulging in military conquests, non-conformance was viewed with great suspicion and usually handled in high-handedness. The author Prabhakara, deliberately selects a portion of history to project a king's misadventure onto the Hindu religion. That the other kings in the lineage did not take a similar path debunks his "missionary position".

Finally, the Gait report. The colonial records are notorious for their administrative motivations when it comes to dividing the Indian society. The report looks straight out of a Christian chronicle of conversions. I would have discarded this example straight away. The weakness in Prabhakara's argument is also glaring.

By the author's own admission, animists are Hindus.
This could be said even of the substantial sections of the people who were so-called animists, for Hinduism of by its nature then, as now, admitted a variety of conflicting practices and paid obeisance to a variety of gods and goddesses.

The so-called conversions is within Hinduism and hence become irrelevant in this discussion.

2. Ideological motivations:
The author Prabhakara deliberately avoids touching upon the ideological motivations driving religious conversion into the Abrahamic religions. Whereas proselytisation is a necessary tenet of the faithful in Islam and Christianity, it has no official sanction in Hinduism. On those instances, like King Pamheiba's, it is driven by individual initiative and not by religious stricture. Prabhakara provides absolutely no evidence to say that these acts of conversions into Hinduism were driven by the same kind of religious compliance as is ordained in Islam and Christianity.

Islam and Christianity have centralised, religious power structure, driven by political agenda. Proselytisers obtain, from such centralised power structure, religious sanction for inducing conversions. Hinduism is not known to have any such centralised power structure. The author provides no evidence to suggest it exists. Nothing in what he has written suggests that fraudulent conversions received official sanction from a central power structure. In such a scenario, it is dishonest on the part of the author to attribute acts of conversion into Hinduism to a broader aspect of Hindu religion.

3. Insinuations:
Having done grave injustice by equating Hinduism with the aggressive proselytisation in Islam and Christianity, Prabhakara crosses all limits of academic decency by accusing Hinduism in no uncertain terms. Here is a collection from the article:
- “exclusive” territory of Hinduism
- sanatana dharma, of which varnashrama dharma is an integral part
- this acceptance of Hinduism did not prevent conflicts between the adherents of Vaishnavism, the predominant faith in Assam at that time, and Shaktism
- The point to note is that the role of the Brahmin clergy was crucial at every stage of the conversion of the king and the upper echelons of the Ahom court and the subsequent schisms and the prolonged conflicts of the late 18th century that had dimensions of caste, tribe, ethnicity, faith and belief, that historians consider was one of the factors that led to the debilitation, and finally the defeat in war and the destruction of the Ahom kingdom in the first quarter of the 19th century.
- virtually the whole population of the Imphal Valley, accounting for about two-thirds of the population, became Hindu in a matter of a few years following the King, Pamheiba (1714-1754), becoming a Hindu
- So fanatical was the attachment of this convert to his new faith that he ordered the suppression of ancient beliefs and practices that were unacceptable to Chaitanya Vaishnavism.
- mindless vandalism the destruction of earlier literature in that script, a precious heritage. Those who did not accept this variety of Hinduism were persecuted, considered outcasts.
- Does one catch echoes or intimations of other processes and inducements practised by, or attributed to, others engaged in conversions, like the abuse of the Other, in more recent times in the rest of the country?

The author's conclusion is particularly damning.
Despite claims of being an ‘eternal faith,’ Hinduism in other parts of the country too should have spread in a similar manner, securing converts through inducements, promises and threats of a spiritual and material kind. If only we knew more about such processes in the so-called mainstream areas of the country, there would be less of heartburn and manufactured animosities over a very natural process of social and personal transformation.

On what basis did the author reach this conclusions? What part of his article supports this conclusions? Is this a case of Chindu writing the conclusion and Prabhakara going in search of evidence? How is the author so cocksure that Hinduism in other parts of the country too *should* have spread in a similar manner? If a nation as big as India has been converted in fraudulent ways into Hinduism, there must have been extensive literature explaining such process. From more recent history, do the Parsis record such an experience?

To call fraudulent and coercive conversions from Hinduism to Islam and Christianity "a natural process of transformation" is an affront to the predominantly Hindu society. An attempt to justify it by pulling out the bogey of similar acts by Hindus is ludicrous.

This is not just shoddy scholarship but bigotry against Hinduism and Hindus. More damage is being done by media's animosity towards Hindus than the mass conversions perpetrated by Islam and Christianity. Now the same media is also overzealous in fabricating the term "Hindu terrorist". If ever there was one, the media outlets are inviting it's ire.

5 comments:

Shankar said...

Well, this guy is trying his best to get into LiC's good books and what better way than to do some Hindu bashing!

BTW, just because his daughter lives in the US, LiC decides to dedicate the whole front page to Obama victory. It is a historic one, but it doesn't mean all other news takes a back seat. How can those readers digest all the crap!

Anonymous said...

"Is this a case of Chindu writing the conclusion and Prabhakara going in search of evidence?"

The answer to your question is resounding "Yes"!

Of late, Chief has gone out on a Hindu-bashing binge and this is a very good example and reveals his mentality.

With this pseudo-article, MSP (who has suddenly reappeared on the pages of Chindu) has got himself qualified to be an "Eminent Historian" and awaiting to be inducted into the secular "(H)all of Shame."

Anonymous said...

More on Chindu's "coverage" of Obama:

http://www.hindu.com/2008/11/09/stories/2008110953332000.htm

The search is on for the'first dog' in the Obama household

So goes headline of the report prominently displayed on the backpage in the print edition. There was Chandrayaan moon mission to report and it got the first page headlines. Otherwise, Chief may have carried the dog story prominently in the first page itself.

One can get to learn a lot of canine details in the report published, not surprising given Chief's own interest in this subject (according to some reports he owns a lot of pedigree dogs and the kennel is airconditioned).

Srinath said...

Naxal Ram has got huge money from the christian organization for defaming Hinduism. It is as simple as that

Anonymous said...

The Desi Angrezi media (particularly prominent members such as the Times group-"Times of India", "Economic Times)seems to be generously receiving funds from the neo-colonial phoren establishments such as the Church and cash-rich NGOs. Funding can be also in the form of "Awards",Prizes and Fellowships" for dubious journalisitc excellence, "sensitive and critically acclaimed" films and documentaries etc.